An idea for a story is a little, crackling miracle. But you have to do something with it, sooner rather than later, before it flames out. For me, the next step in story development is to pick my protagonist’s name. For me, naming the main character (or characters) brings them and the story into existence.
I have a thing for names. My own name has been a source of frustration for me, for as long as I can remember — it’s hard for people to spell and to pronounce. Because of this, I’ve become obsessed with remembering names and their proper spellings and pronunciations, and this has led me to an interest in names in general. And finding just the right name for a character gives me a singular thrill — it’s as if that perfect match lights a figurative match to my idea.
When I envisioned a story about a boy obsessed with cars…of course, his name needed to be Otto.
A story about a lonely porcupine? Well, hello there, Mr. Prickles.
A story about table manners illustrated in a retro style, featuring two well-mannered children? Welcome, Evie and Simon.
When I first conceived of the story that would become THE INFAMOUS RATSOS, I knew I wanted my characters to be loosely based on my grandfather and his brother, Ralph and Louis Rizzo, so I knew they would be boys named Ralphie and Louie. Then I recalled the character of Ratso Rizzo in Midnight Cowboy, and voila! I not only had the last name Ratso — that name inspired me to make the characters rats. As for the other characters, I hope you can tell how much fun I had naming Florinda “Fluffy” Rabbitski, Chad Badgerton, and Tiny Crawley, as well as the grownups — Big Lou, Miss Beavers, Mr. O’Hare, and my personal favorite, Mrs. Porcupini. The animal characters in THE INFAMOUS RATSOS are much more anthropomorphized than anything I’ve ever written before, so their names had to be the right combination of human and animal (and funny). I like to think I got them just right.
With the protagonists of my upcoming middle grade series, The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters, I couldn’t find human names that seemed boring enough, so I started thinking about non-human names. I knew I wanted a “J” name and a “K” name, so it didn’t take long for me to hit on Jaundice and Kale, and then I was on my way. Those names really set the absurd tone of the story. Some of the other character names are an homage to Herman Melville’s work — Princess “Kwee-Kweg” is a riff on Queequeg from Moby Dick, Millie Mudd references Billy Budd, and Mr. Bartleby the mail carrier is an allusion to the story “Bartleby the Scrivener.”And of course, the mysterious pirate Captain Ann Tennille is a wink to this throwback. (Most of my Bland Sisters jokes — name-related or otherwise — are for kids, but every once in a while, I like to throw out a little funny for the grownups. More to come on this mix of humor.)
What are some of your favorite character names?